01.20.10

On Passage of the Nuclear Forensics and Attribution Act

CONGRESSMAN ADAM B. SCHIFF
OF CALIFORNIA
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Madam Speaker, at the outset, I want to thank and congratulate the Homeland Security Committee and Chairman Thompson. The committee has taken an important step forward towards preventing nuclear terrorism by persevering with this legislation, and I appreciate all of the hard work that the chairman and staff have put into it.

I also want to thank other Members who have contributed greatly to the effort, one being the ranking member, Peter King.

Mr. King, once again, I thank you for your leadership in this area.

I want to thank the former chairman of the Emerging Threats Subcommittee, an early supporter, Jim Langevin; the current chairwoman of that subcommittee, Yvette Clarke; as well as the ranking member of the subcommittee, Dan Lungren; and in the last Congress, Michael McCaul.

The Nuclear Forensics and Attribution Act will help us fight one of the most important national security threats we face, that of nuclear proliferation. Countries around the world now have access to technology that was once the realm of the few; and dangerous nuclear materials are, unfortunately, sprinkled around the world. This is not a new problem. Illicit nuclear material has been intercepted in transit out of the former Soviet Union many times since the end of the Cold War, and the material we catch is surely only a small fraction of the total amount trafficked.

Last year, Graham Allison wrote in Newsweek that the only thing that could keep nuclear bombs out of the hands of terrorists is a brand-new science of nuclear forensics. He continued that the key to a new deterrent is coming up with some way of tracing the nuclear material backward from an explosion in New York City to the reactor that forged the fissile material, even to the mines that yielded the original uranium ore.

The Nuclear Forensics and Attribution Act is designed to do just that. It is aimed at the decision-makers in North Korea, Pakistan, Iran or elsewhere who could sell nuclear material, as well as the smugglers and corrupt officials around the world who could steal it. Those parts of the nuclear network can be deterred by the knowledge that, if their material is later intercepted, the United States will find out and will hold them responsible.

This bill expands our ability to determine the source of nuclear material by authorizing the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center in the Department of Homeland Security. This center will coordinate the various agencies, and it will ensure an efficient combined response when nuclear material is intercepted or used, God forbid, in a weapon. It will also advance the science of nuclear forensics, bringing in new radiochemists and physicists to rejuvenate a rapidly aging workforce and funding research on new methods to identify materials. It also takes an important step toward building the nuclear forensic database we will need to effectively track nuclear material.

The bill asks the President to negotiate agreements with other nations to share forensic data on their nuclear materials, both civilian and military.

This effort is vital, and the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center must play a key role in negotiations to ensure that the data we obtain is the data we need for quick attribution and response.

Nuclear terrorism is an indistinct threat of devastating consequence and therefore difficult to guard against. But as communications and transportation revolutions bring us ever closer to our allies, they bring our enemies close as well. I believe this bill will help make sure that our ability to prevent a nuclear terror attack keeps up with our enemies' ability to attempt one.

Again, I want to thank the chairman and ranking member for their leadership and urge all Members to support the bill.